The Ethical Implications of Business Automation

As we come across the term ‘automation,’ we think of highly efficient robots, control systems, and machine tools. However, we should also advance to think about how automation impacts businesses and people. This is wherein the scope of ethical implications of rapid business automation comes in.

Automation is not a new concept. Historically, it started before the advent of the contemporary era. It is one of the most common tendencies of the modern era since the beginning of the First Industrial Revolution during the 18th century. In modern times, it is one of the most emerging drivers of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Due to this reason, it is crucial for all -including scientists, engineers, and technicians who go ahead with implementing automation, to reflect upon the respective ethical implications of high-end automation. Automation, when implemented wisely, can lead to a highly productive and brighter future for humanity across the globe. On the other hand, when automation is implemented in a short-sighted manner, it will lead to significant social and business disruption, ample grievances, and core political instability.

Importance of Ethics in Automation

Digital technologies keep evolving at a rapid rate while revolutionizing the domain of human labor -inspiring some workers while leaving behind others. As more companies continue embracing robotics and AI, some jobs will be improved or created. Still, a number of them are going to be taken away.

Amidst all these speculations, an important question arises, “What is the ethical implication of these advancements?” What type of obligations do organizations of the world have towards workers getting displaced due to this reason? Are there ethical practices that organizational leaders will cater to while managing digital disruption?

Organizational leaders are expected to understand the adverse effects of the technologies implemented within the organization while committing to the creation of systems that help in driving economic growth and cohesion. A recent research report states that human workers should and will continue being central as well as critical to the global workplace in the coming future -complementing, augmenting, and managing the strengths of high-end technological solutions.

In this context, AI and other emerging technologies should be regarded as mere tools that should be leveraged to ensure that our lives are better. While this might sound aspirational, the genuine concern is how to reach there. A group of researchers decoded the same with the help of subsequent levels to unravel the pyramid of progress −

Level 0 for Cost-focused Automation

It stands at the lowest level of the pyramid. At this level, technology is solely utilized to garner economic benefits by reducing human labor. These cost-centric programs are not only human-focused or socially conscious.

Level 1 for Performance-centric Automation

Processes and systems are re-engineered to leverage automation to their respective advantage while still utilizing human competencies and expertise to fill in all technological gaps. For instance, in a warehouse of Amazon, workers execute tasks that are concerned with agility and flexibility -like selecting and packing items.

On the other hand, the robots do routine and redundant heavy-lifting operations like the transportation of loaded totes and bins. While these systems might move past the overall cost efficiencies, they are significantly driven by business-centric metrics that do not regard the most major implication of the staff. They also do not think about the societal costs and benefits of automation.

Level 2 for Employee-centric Automation

At this level, the primary objective of the business is to optimize overall performance while enriching and developing people. In the existing systems, the primary objective of automation is to not sideline or replace people with advanced systems or machines. Rather, it is about encouraging new ways of human-machine interactions that will further improve human capabilities.

When you take the instance of Toyota, employees here produce the goods manually initially while simplifying and innovating the entire process as they advance forward. Robots and machines only take up tasks once they have been perfected.

While these practices help in empowering the workforce, strategies and choices are still observed from the company’s point of view.

Level 3 for Socially-responsible Automation

At the topmost end of the pyramid, automation is implemented to produce a wide range of jobs for humans -driving economic growth and success while also promoting the overall well-being of society. Achieving such a significant objective should involve both active as well as inactive interactions.

This implies that business leaders should devote themselves to proactively searching for new sources of revenue and job-promoting growth as they improve automation. Small-business manufacturing serves to be an area wherein employees are impacted by the advent of robotics and automation.

Ethics in Business Automation

Ethics serves to be one of the major challenges in the automation and robotics industry. Common ethical problems with respect to automation can be categorized into −

  • AI capable of eroding human freedom

  • Humans are no longer able to take account of the respective failures

  • Sensitive operations calling for human supervision can be significantly delegated to robots

  • Unemployment and de-skilling of the workforce

  • Using AI in unethical ways

As robots continue integrating effectively into society, researchers have realized the significance of ethics and security. Both institutions and engineers should account for the complex economics of implementing high-end robots in the workforce while ensuring that machines tend to behave ethically.


Defending automation in an ethical manner should involve, irrespective of the approach, understanding the powerful effects on labor. Individuals have always valued efficient and productive work. Moreover, you have all the reasons to believe that they will continue doing so in a highly automated future.

At the best, rapid automation can improve freedom by providing a wider range of cost-effective and efficient products & services. Moreover, it can also impart an all-new sense of the importance of selecting the innovative activities executed as technology continues offering us a high-end, developed sense of living.

Due to this, we are expected to dedicate some of our tasks to a workable and fair solution to existing social challenges that we might encounter in the coming future.

Updated on: 27-Apr-2023


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